Heritage Month: Arab Americans in Television
BY: Husayn Hosoda/Contributing Writer
The entertainment industry has had a complex relationship with the Arab World in terms of how Arabs and Arab Americans are portrayed in the media. Homeland and 24 are prime examples of shows that feature Arabs primarily as extremist antagonists. Nonetheless there are shining stars among the Arab American community that have contributed greatly to the world of television.
We would be remiss in not mentioning an individual from one of the most highly regarded programs in the history of television, M*A*S*H. This famous show about army doctors during the Korean War featured Arab American actor and comedian Jamie Farr (born Jameel Farah) as Corporal Maxwell Q. Klinger. An army veteran himself, Farr spent 11 years on the show, and spent the rest of his career in other film, television and theatre roles, as well as paneling several game shows.
Another well-known Arab American is actress Kathy Najimy, who has had a long career in American entertainment. Najimy had starring roles in Sister Act and its sequel, as well as King of the Hill. Since 1985, she has been featured in film, television, and voice-acting roles.
Jenna Dewan might be known most for her incredible dance skills in the movie Step Up, but she is also a television actress who can be found on many channels. Dewan has starred in So You Think You Can Dance, American Horror Story: Asylum, Witches of East End, and Supergirl, among others. Dewan is also known for her marriage to heartthrob actor, Channing Tatum.
One of television’s most interesting characters of all time was Adrian Monk, who was portrayed by Arab American actor Tony Shalhoub on the show Monk. Shalhoub’s outstanding performance on the show earned him several awards and made him a household name.
There are several other Arab American TV personalities, such as: Michael Nouri of Flashdance; Amy Yasbeck of Wings; Marlo Thomas of That Girl; and the late Vic Tayback; Tige Andrews of The Mob Squad and The Detectives; Michael Ansara of Broken Arrow and Buck Rogers; and Danny Thomas of The Danny Thomas Show.
Arab Americans as a demographic have a long way to go in how they are represented in mainstream entertainment, but the contributions of so many Arab Americans in the television industry has allowed for a great deal of progress not only helping to reach out to Arab American audiences, but also in aiding American society at large to better understand their Arab neighbors.